Infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria affect over 2 million people in the U.S. each year, a trend that doesn’t show any signs of abating. In 2015, the World Health Organization called antibiotic resistance “a global health crisis,” and warned of the threat of bacteria becoming uncontrollable by existing means. Scientists say this was brought on by overuse of antibiotics, which has allowed the germs to develop resistance mechanisms. In fact, bacteria are now becoming resistant at a faster pace than antibiotics are being introduced. So, scientists are beginning to look for other plans of attack.
Last year, the U.S. legalized production of industrial hemp—the form of cannabis with low THC levels from which CBD is often derived. And it was not the first country to do so. So far, 21 countries have legalized hemp cultivation on a federal level. It’s legal throughout much of Europe and South America, and in many countries is not considered a controlled substance.
As cannabis laws change, more research is being done on the potential health benefits of CBD. According to a new study done by scientists in Australia, CBD may have antibiotic capabilities. The findings were recently presented at the annual conference of the American Society for Microbiology, ASM Microbe 2019 held in San Francisco. The research is still in its early stages, but with continued investigation, experts may one day be able to use CBD as the basis for a drug that could change the way we fight infectious diseases.
The researchers tested the success rate of CBD in killing different strains of bacteria using test tubes and animal models. CBD was found to be only selectively effective in this capacity, killing gram-positive bacteria but not gram-negative. In general, scientists have found gram-negative bacteria to be the more resistant of the two. Gram-positive bacteria can cause serious skin infections and pneumonia, while gram-negative bacteria include E. coli and salmonella.
In the study, the researchers compared the success of CBD against common antibiotics like vancomycin. They found that in the test tube portion of the study CBD was able to kill gram-positive bacteria within three hours, while vancomycin often takes six to eight.
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Perhaps most importantly, CBD was found to be much less likely to cause resistance than existing antibiotics. Even after being exposed to CBD for 20 days—the period of time bacteria can survive some existing antibiotics—the bacteria did not become resistant. When tested on mice, a topical CBD was applied to treat a skin infection, and while able to cut the number of bacteria down after 48 hours, it did not clear the infection.
The study, funded by Botanix Pharmaceuticals Ltd. and the Australian government, shows strong evidence of CBD’s antibiotic capabilities but should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. As researchers admitted, the results indicate that CBD can be effective against bacteria, but they still don’t understand the way it works, and not enough research has been done to prove anything.
Study lead author Mark Blaskovich, of The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s Centre for Superbug Solutions in Brisbane, Australia, told Live Science a lot more work needs to be done before CBD can be used to treat infections in humans.
“It would be very dangerous to try to treat a serious infection with cannabidiol instead of one of the tried and tested antibiotics,” Blaskovich said.
Continued investigation of CBD’s potential as an antibiotic may yield fruitful results somewhere down the road. But CBD should by no means be considered an effective form of self-treatment against infections. Existing medications that have been approved by the FDA to treat such conditions should still be used against serious infections.